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Christmas is coming, and so too is the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Big upticks in cases and a slightly less big uptick in hospitalizations has many people on edge. At least in the DC area, trying to get a test is a challenge, and mask mandates are back again.
It reminds me of a piece I read very early in the crisis (hat tip Codebook reader John Bailey!) titled The Hammer and The Dance. It posited that doing nothing to really try to contain COVID would be disastrous, and that a hard clamp-down would buy time but eventually need to be loosened...at which point cases will rise anyway. It was informative at the time and is fascinating to re-read now in December 2021 as a time capsule of early pandemic thought.
The post noted that Imperial College modeling of a "suppression" clamp-down ("Hammer") was based off of five months of lockdown, something that Tomas Pueyo, the author of this piece, thought was wildly overestimating what would be needed.
Back then, Pueyo wrote that he expected most countries to loosen those initial measures in relatively short order and eventually end up in something he called "The Dance" until vaccines were widely available. "The Dance" is removing most restrictions but still limiting large gatherings and being ready to tighten restrictions up again when the situation warrants to keep things from spiraling out of control. You could argue that "The Dance" is how most of America has been living for the last few months.
The problem nowadays is:
1) "The Hammer" was dependent upon testing and tracing being available when initial brief but tough lockdowns end. Instead, we did get months of lockdown...but with very little good testing and tracing or containment at all to show for it in the end.
2) "The Dance" never stopped in many places, even once vaccines were widely available. We have far, far, far more tools to cope with COVID-19 than we did in the early days when we were without vaccines and therapeutics and even a basic understanding that it travels in the air not on surfaces, and so on and so forth.
As a result, while some people are all in on the Forever Dance, most people are growing a bit sick of all of it and are becoming more willing to roll the dice. I wrote about this last week in my column, but CNN's Harry Enten has another look at where things stand regarding people's exhaustion with lockdowns.
Lesson for policymakers in the future: people are generally willing to sacrifice in the face of a threat, but there's only so much they're willing to give - especially if they come to believe their sacrifices aren't really worth it.
Final note: if you don't yet have the vaccine, I don't imagine I hold the power to persuade you otherwise. I imagine rising case numbers will be relatively persuasive to some final holdouts. But I did think this clip of former President Trump saying that he's gotten the booster and that he wants his supporters to get it too because "You're playing right into their hands" (their = the left/media, presumably?) if you don't.
Credit where due: good for him for saying he got boosted and encouraging his supporters to do so, too.
The current Real Clear Politics averages for the President's job approval are:
Overall job approval: 44.4% approve (up 1.5 from last week)
Economic job approval: 40.4% approve (up 1.3 from last week)
COVID-19 job approval: 48.3% approve (up .6 from last week)
This week's movement upwards isn't from any one particular poll entering the averages. A smattering of new polls have come out, each of which tells a slightly different story. Together, they continue to suggest the bleeding has stopped - for now. FOX News's poll is above the average on Biden overall job approval but is below the average on economic job approval and right on the average when it comes to handling of COVID-19. YouGov's overall job approval number is below average but it also has Biden's handling of the economy as more than five points above the average.
We don't know if late November was "the floor", so to speak, but things have rebounded a tiny bit for Biden. For now. Not yet factoring in: the (maybe?) final demise of BBB, everything re-locking down due to Omicron...
RCP: Republicans +2.6 (GOP margin down. 7 from one week ago)
538: Republicans +1.5 (GOP margin up .6 from one week ago)
These two averages have converged a tiny bit. The 538 average "unskews" polls based on its assessment of past performance, so what RCP counts as an R+9 poll from Rasmussen, 538 only counts as an R+4 poll. They also include slightly different polls: 538 includes my firm in its rankings, while RCP doesn't. But RCP includes InsiderAdvantage, while 538 doesn't. Either way, both suggest Republicans holding a slim advantage heading into 2022.
Here's how this week's COVID-19 picture is looking. (Spoiler alert: it isn't great.)
COVID-19 7-day new case average: 133,012 (14 day change of +21%).
COVID-19 7-day hospitalizations average: 69,387 (14 day change of +16%).
I wrote my big Thursday column all about America's dilemma of whether to continue to pursue "COVID Zero" at all or whether to embrace the harsh reality that we are all probably going to get COVID-19 at some point.
On the "new cases" front, things look a mess. Back when I launched Codebook in early November, that new case average was around half of what it is now. On the other hand, testing is also way way up - up 51% over the last two weeks! As people head home for the holidays, people are getting a test for peace of mind, and it may mean we are catching a lot of asymptomatic cases that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. But it also seems undeniable that something is up - in just the last 24 hours, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Cory Booker and Gov. Larry Hogan have all tested positive. (They're all vaccinated and boosted and seem to be doing well, and godspeed to them in their recovery!)
However, the hospitalization data is not showing the same sort of uptick as cases. That's because, blessedly, a lot of people are vaccinated, and being vaccinated makes it very likely your case of COVID will not be a serious issue. The bulk of the problem in our ERs in the coming weeks is going to come from people who will probably come to regret not having gotten vaccinated sooner. New York State does a great job visualizing this by breaking down hospitalizations by vaccination status; while 1 out of 100,000 vaccinated people is being hospitalized on average every day in New York state, that rises up to nearly 10 out of 100,000 unvaccinated people - and that chart only provides data as recent as late November.
For a long time, lockdowns and mask mandates and so on enjoyed relatively strong popular support - even, to the surprise of many, among Republicans. That may be waning, and if schools shut down again and so on and so forth, the politics of lockdowns may look different in 2022 than they did in 2020.
Here's how this week's economic picture looks.
Unemployment (Nov 2021): 4.2%
Inflation (Nov 2021): 6.8% year over year (worse than October's 6.2%).
Gas prices seem to have stabilized - much like the President's job approval! - but are still over a dollar higher than they were a year ago. This seems to be the challenge the Biden administration is facing on COVID and the economy - the promise of "we will get through this" isn't yielding a return to pre-COVID unemployment (was 3.5% in February 2020), gas prices (was were around $2.40 a gallon right before COVID and fell shortly thereafter because staying home = less demand), and more.
The rest of Echelon's December poll came out last week, with a rundown of:
If you want a good long-read for the holiday break, my Echelon Insights team and I wrote up a sixty-some page report for the Konrad Adenauer foundation (a German center-right think tank affiliated with the CDU) digging into the seven big trends we think will reshape American politics in the coming decades. We wrote it with an eye toward a global audience, hoping to highlight things that may be happening in the U.S. that could be coming to other countries sooner rather than later.
Finally, tune in to my radio show this week - SiriusXM POTUS Channel 124 at 10 am eastern - for three great interviews: Rich Thau of Engagious covering his latest Trump-Biden voter focus groups, Pew's Greg Smith on the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans, and New York Times' Vanessa Friedman on the history of White House holiday decor. (If I were ever President and the duty of White House holiday decoration ever fell to my husband, it would 100% look like this.)
Thanks again for reading Codebook! Don't forget about being a premium subscriber - you'll get this Monday run-down every week moving forward. Either way, stay tuned for Thursday's deep dive, coming directly to your inbox.